AAFSW’s content manager interviewed Ambika Anand Prokop, Founder and Author of Greenfeet Guides, world adventure books for kids (also EFM, Dubai, Singapore, Chennai, now DC). Read the interview below!
AAFSW: When did you decided to start a book/guide series yourself?
Ambika: The idea for Greenfeet Guides started in 2013 while I was exploring the Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia with my children, then 5 and 7 years old. I was incredibly excited to visit this world famous monument once “hidden” in the jungle. But I also knew that roaming around a 1000-year-old temple on a hot and humid day, might not be my kids’ cup of tea! I looked for kid-friendly books and resources about Angkor Wat before our trip to help inspire them, but didn’t find much on the market.
So I created my own Angkor Wat treasure hunt for the kids, and told them the stories of the temple’s famous carvings, and that did the trick! My children LOVED their day of adventure at Angkor Wat, and that’s when it occurred to me that other families might appreciate similar resources of stories and activities to help kids get excited about the places their parents take (drag???!!!) them to. And that’s how Greenfeet Guides began, as a series of story and activity books to help kids have fun discovering unique cultures and landscapes around the world.
AAFSW: What have been some of the best parts of the FS lifestyle with kids? Some of the biggest challenges?
Ambika: The best part of the FS lifestyle with kids, by far, is the chance to take a deep dive into different cultures and really connect with people from all over the world. Every post and country is so different, and my children have had a chance to see that there are so many different ways of doing the same thing. I love that my kids now have a very specific “favorites” list from all their world experiences to date: the classical Indian dance drama performances they saw in Chennai, the xiao long bao soup dumplings they devoured in Singapore, the marvelous light shows and expansive sand dunes they came across in the United Arab Emirates, and topping the list of course, is all the friendships with other kids around the world they have developed on all these adventures.
The hardest part of this life: saying goodbye and starting over, new schools, new friends, new culture and norms, time after time. It’s not easy at all, especially as the kids get older and have to keep adapting. We constantly remind them that it takes time, but they always manage find their place wherever we go.
AAFSW: How did your own children influence Greenfeet Guides?
Ambika: My children (and nieces and nephews) have been a key part of Greenfeet Guides since Day 1, because they were my test audience and editors. I observed them as they travelled the world with me, and I could see what excited them or bored them about a place and what the “pain-points” were; they tested all the activities, gave me feedback on the stories and drawings, and as they got older, started editing the books too.
Every child is different, and it was great to have my nieces and nephews get involved too, so I could incorporate more ages and preferences. Some kids like arts and crafts, others numbers, others writing, and nature or movement. I really try to incorporate different activity-types in each Greenfeet Guide, so having as many kids as possible be involved in testing the books, helped me cover the range.
AAFSW: What was the most unexpected part of the writing/publishing process?
Ambika: I never realized how hard book marketing is: book writing is one thing (and has been time-consuming but relatively straight-forward), but getting the word out to interested families on a large scale that my book series exists has been challenging. Greenfeet Guides is self-published, but now I see the value of a publisher, so that writers like me can focus on writing; it’s hard to do both! It’s also been interesting to experience different publishing standards and sensitivities in different countries (in Dubai for example, I had to be very careful about the representation of the ruling Sheikh).
That said, as the word has been getting out about Greenfeet Guides, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many different types of organizations have been interested in my books, including embassies and consulates, who order them as gifts for incoming families, hotel and travel company kid clubs, and government tourism ministries.
AAFSW: You have a number of artists who have worked on the guides: how did you find them?
Ambika: It was really important to me to work with local artists to make sure each Greenfeet Guide was accurate and visually reflected the local culture more authentically. The artists for “Cambodia Kids” were young Cambodian artists whom I met at a local nonprofit art gallery in Siem Reap on one of my research trips. I found the Emirati artist for “Dubai-UAE Kids” through word of mouth through the art and design community in Dubai. I often use the Expat Facebook groups in each country to get artist leads.
It’s not always easy to find a local artist with both the drawing skills and the English skills needed, but working with local artists has been one of the most fulfilling part of creating each Greenfeet Guide. I learn so much from the artist, and it’s a wonderful way to get to know someone from the local culture. Also, it really helps give credibility in-country when I market the books, and I have found local governments and nonprofits to be glad for another platform to showcase the work of local artists to international audiences.
AAFSW: Where are you planning on going from here with Greenfeet Guides?
Ambika: I definitely want to write more! There has been a very positive response to the series, and I am very excited that Greenfeet Guides are currently selling at the World Expo in Dubai. I have a draft of Singapore Kids half-written, and have been composing many others in my head after various travels in recent years: India Kids, Holy Land Kids and Kenya/Tanzania Kids. That will keep me busy for a few years! Now that I have returned to Washington DC, I’m also thinking about USA Kids.
So far, Greenfeet Guides has been a one-woman show (me!), but I’d love to expand and find a publisher or partner to help with sales and marketing, and more writers so Greenfeet Guides can expand to include more countries more quickly. So far, each book takes me one year to write.
AAFSW: What is one piece of advice you have for frequent traveling families with kids?
Ambika: Before you go, figure out one thing about your destination that each of your children is really interested and build that up for them in preparation for your trip: see if you can find a book, watch a video, or have them do a bit of research about that destination that they can share with the family. Having just one specific thing for kids to look forward to and be excited about – whether it’s a particular tourist site or a local specialty food, can make all the difference in everyone’s enjoyment of the trip.
When we went on a family trip to London, each of the 4 kids (ages 7-11) picked a destination of their choice (including the Tower of London, Harry Potter World, the Manchester United Stadium and the Canterbury Cathedral) and they became the tour guide at each place. It doesn’t have to be that involved, but in this case, it was great to have the kids involved in the planning and guiding.
AAFSW: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ambika: The goal of Greenfeet Guides is to help kids appreciate both CULTURE and NATURE around the world. I started my career in the environmental field as a teacher and a restoration biologist, so environmental stewardship has always been an important part of my work. Unfortunately, the carbon footprint of global travel is very high, and as a globetrotter myself, I struggle with this dilemma. I don’t have any magic answers, but I do my best to offset the carbon footprint of my research travel, and produce the books sustainably with recycled papers, vegetable-based inks, and local production.
When I write Greenfeet Guide activities, I try to help kids become aware of each country’s natural landscape and how their actions may impact those resources. My most recent Dubai-UAE Kids book helps kids learn about falcons which are very important part of Emirati culture, and the desert landscape. In one activity, kids are asked to think about the environmental cost of different transport modes to Dubai, and the water footprint of eating the popular shawarma sandwich found at street vendors in Dubai.
I hope that Greenfeet Guides can help kids enjoy culture and nature around the world, and through such experiences, kids will also see the value of protecting both.
Check out Greenfeet Guides!